Advent Midweek 2
Kingdom of Grace
December 9, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church – New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
Christ’s Kingdom of Power extends to all creation and is ruled by His almighty power. This kingdom is governed by laws, both natural and moral. It’s regulated by threats and punishments. If you fail to keep the laws of the King, there are consequences. Therefore, at best, it is a kingdom of coercion that can regulate outward behavior to an extent, but can never change hearts and minds.
But there is also the promise that this kingdom is not the final kingdom, and that it exists in service to another kingdom. All things work together for the good of God’s elect. The Kingdom of Power serves another kingdom, kingdom that is in the world, but not of the world. This kingdom is a Kingdom of Grace. It is established by Christ’s gracious activity in the flesh. It is a kingdom that extends only to the elect and is governed by the grace of Jesus Christ.
Christ Reigns over His Kingdom of Grace with His Gifts
As Jesus stands before Pontius Pilate, He questions Jesus: Are you a king? My kingdom is not of this world, says Jesus, If My kingdom was of this world, My officers would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews. Now, My kingdom is not from here (John 18:36). The Romans mock Him for this, dressing Him with a purple robe, giving Him a crown of thorns and a reed for a scepter. Then they beat Him with His own humble regalia. Then they raise Him up on a wooden throne and put a sign above Him: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. And to make sure everyone knows it, they put it in three languages.
This is certainly not how a king, someone of power, presents Himself. They mock this King because He’s weak. But don’t mistake His weakness for powerlessness. Because the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of men. His is a power that goes beyond power, the power to have mercy. His power is made perfect in weakness—instead of coming down off the cross as He is fully able to do, He suffers for the sake of those who mock Him.
Behold, your King comes to you, began the season of Advent, but the King comes in a distinct way: humble and mounted on a donkey. This King is a humble King, who first humbled Himself by becoming flesh, by taking the form of a servant. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom in place of many (Mt 20:28). This is what defines the Kingdom of Grace—the Son of God, almighty, powerful King of creation choses to become weak, humble, vulnerable for the sake of those who do not have His power.
There is nothing in us that deserved Christ to come in such a way. No one ever petitioned almighty God to become weak for our sake. It was God’s sovereign choice—no one counseled Him to humble Himself. It was His decision from the foundation of the world, because that’s His nature—to give of Himself for the sake of others.
Unlike the Kingdom of Power, this Kingdom of Grace is not universal. It does not extend to all creation. It’s a particular kingdom. A unique kingdom. A kingdom not of the world, though it exists in the world. It’s distinct from the Kingdom of Power, though not separate. The Kingdom of Grace extends only to the elect, and to be elect simply means to be a citizen of Christ’s Kingdom of Grace.
The diagram on the front of this worship folder is a way to understand the relationship between these two kingdoms. When you become a citizen of the Kingdom of Grace, it’s not that you exit the Kingdom of Power, that God’s Laws no longer apply. But the Kingdom of Grace transforms God’s power. The Law becomes a servant to something greater.
The Law demands love, but it does not create love. You may do what God expects of you for fear of punishment or to hide the sinful rot that hides beneath a polished Christian exterior, but you will never love it with the Law alone. But, Greater love has no one than this: that someone lay down His life for His friends (Jn 15:13). Jesus, our King, laid down His life on the cross for His friends. This is His gracious gift to the citizens of His kingdom. Apart from anything we have done, or could do, Jesus showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners, while we still stood condemned under His Law and deserving of eternal punishment, He died for us.
The death of Christ was for the whole world. For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (Jn 3:16). While the Kingdom of Grace is accessible to all people because of Christ’s all-availing sacrifice, it only extends to those who have faith in Him. This kingdom is a Kingdom of Grace. Grace means gift and gifts can be rejected. Christ offers citizenship in this kingdom freely as a gift. This means that if you’re in, it’s completely the work of the Giver of the gift; and if you’re out, it’s completely the work of the one who rejects the gift.
If you reject the gift, then there is no other kingdom but the Kingdom of Power. If you reject grace, then there is no other option except Law and punishment.
This Kingdom is essentially a hidden kingdom. You can’t see it with your eyes. It’s a kingdom of faith. A question was put to Him by the Pharisees—when the Kingdom of God would come. [Jesus] answered and said, “The Kingdom of God does not come with observation. Neither will they say, ‘Look, here it is. There!’ For behold the Kingdom of God is within you” (Lk 17:20-21). You can’t identify a citizen of this kingdom by outward appearances.
But while you can’t see who receives this grace in faith, you can see the gifts. The reign of this Kingdom of Grace is the gracious activity of Christ. And it’s found precisely in the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Wherever the Gospel of the Kingdom is being preached, wherever children are being baptized, wherever people are eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood, there is the Kingdom of Grace. You can’t see it; you must believe it. It’s an article of faith. You confess it in the creed: I believe one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church.
The Kingdom of Grace is manifest in the means of grace. These are the marks of the Church. And the reign of our King of Grace is this: For we are in the Christian Church, where there is nothing but ‹continuous, uninterrupted› forgiveness of sin. This is because God forgives us and because we forgive, bear with, and help one another (LC III.55).
“Who is this King of Glory?” asks the Psalmist. He is a King of Power, whose power is perfected in weakness. He is the King enthroned on a cross, crowned with thorns, suffering and dying for His people. He is the risen King who graciously reigns from His Father’s right hand, distributing His gifts in the preaching of repentance for forgiveness, Baptism in His name, and the Supper of His body and blood. By these means of grace, you are made a citizen in this Kingdom of Grace and delivered from punishment.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard